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Philip Bohlman, representing the guys and dear God don’t call them gals at the Society for Ethnomusicology on the use of music as torture.

Friday, February 9, 2007
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HH: Earlier, I mentioned that last Friday, the Society For Ethnomusicology issued the following statement. The Society For Ethnomusicology condemns the use of torture in any form. An international scholarly society founded in 1955, the Society For Ethnomusicology and its members are devoted to the research, study and performance of music in historical periods and cultural contexts. The SEM is committed to the ethical uses of music to further human understanding, and to uphold the highest standards of human rights. The society is equally committed to drawing critical attention to the abuse of such standards through the unethical use of music to harm individuals in the societies in which they live. The U.S. government and its military and diplomatic agencies has used music as an instrument of abuse since 2001, particularly through the implementation of programs of torture in both covert and over detention centers as part of the War On Terror. The Society For Ethnomusicology calls for the full disclosure of U.S. government sanctioned and funded programs that design the means of delivering music as torture, condemns the use of music as an instrument of torture, and demands that the United States government and the agencies cease using music as an instrument of physical and psychological torture. I am joined now by Philip Bohlman. Professor Bohlman of the University of Chicago is the president of the Society of Ethnomusicologists. Professor, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

PB: It’s great…thank you very much for inviting me.

HH: Can you give us the background on how this statement developed within the Society of Ethnomusicologists?

PB: It begins, the statement began, actually, it came from our ethics committee. We have a standing committee devoted to ethical questions which concerns itself with the ethical questions of our field itself, the ways in which we conduct our own research with human subjects, but also engages actively in a political way with ethical issues outside of our field, but having to do with music, and in the public sphere.

HH: And how many members does the Society have?

PB: The Society has roughly 2,500 members.

HH: All right. Now the use of music has been known for some time. Why did it take five years for the Society to come up with a statement about it?

PB: Well, it has been known for some time, but of course, the systematic use of music as torture has not been known as well. One of the, if I may say sort of inspirational papers that set us to thinking about this is a book by Suzanne Cusick, which we actually have as a link in our position statement. And she’s brought together much of the information about the systematic use of torture, beginning in some ways, already after World War II. These are government funded program, research programs, developing means to actually to deliver torture in very systematic ways. The difference here is between the types of reports that one has of torture at Guantanamo Bay, in which radios are turned up very loud and piped into the cages in which the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are kept.

HH: Cages?

PB: The cells in which they are…these open cells that are used for the Guantanamo prisoners.

HH: And did the ethics committee entertain dissenting views? Did they seek out an explanation from the American government about how music had been used, or talked to any of the Psyops Veterans Association, who’ve discussed it extensively in the press?

PB: This information is in the public domain. One can find it, much of it, of course, because there are CIA programs, is covert, but there’s enough of it that’s overt. There were discussions in a number of different ways. I mean, the government of course doesn’t talk about this, and of course, their idea is that this is a sort of soft way of handling prisoners. They wouldn’t call it torture, a typical way of the government’s…

HH: But I’m getting more to the methodology as opposed to the debate first, before we get to that conversation. Did the Society’s committees, and then its plenary session that adopted it, did they entertain the contrary view?

PB: There were no dissenting voices from within the Society. It was unanimously accepted. There was no dissenting view. We passed this unanimously. The way this works is it begins with the ethics committee, they pass it on to the board of directors, we work on the language, we have a back and forth, and then we decide, then we make a decision on how to approve it, and as I said, it was unanimously approved.

HH: Well, that I understand, unanimous. But did the Society attempt to engage anyone familiar with interrogation techniques, and the necessity of interrogation to present an opposing view?

PB: They did not.

HH: Do you think that perhaps might have led to some gaps in the Society’s understanding of the need to interrogate prisoners?

PB: I think that’s not the question that this position statement addresses, and it certainly is not the question that it addresses. The question is simply to look at the material evidence about the use of music. We’re not taking a stand about a decision making process. We’re taking a stand about the tool itself.

HH: Do you believe in interrogation at all?

PB: I can speak for myself, but I cannot in this sense speak for the Society for Ethnomusicology. And I think I would prefer it if you asked the question in such a way that it doesn’t ask me…this is an entirely hypothetical question.

HH: No, I mean, do you think that when terrorists and suspected terrorists are captured, that they should be questioned about their plans and their allies?

PB: I think questioning is always a possibility in such situations. I think torture is never a possibility.

HH: And how do you define torture?

PB: I…torture is a means of delivering a question that causes bodily harm and emotional harm.

HH: Emotional…would emotional harm alone be torture in the view of your or the…I’m not sure when it’s the Society or you, so I’ll let you decide that.

PB: I can only speak for myself here.

HH: All right. So is emotional harm torture?

PB: Psychological and emotional harm is certainly torture. And it’s the attempt to define it as something other than torture that creates some of the greatest problems that we have in the interrogation system that the government uses.

HH: And can you describe for me that interrogation system as you understand it?

PB: Well, they’re the interrogation systems that will, for example, deprive people of sleep. And music is used commonly in this, of course, leaving an individual in a room in which music is played very loudly for many, many hours to deprive a person of sleep. This is a type of, this is a type of psychological torture, which would of course lead to physical torture as well.

HH: And do you think sleep deprivation is torture?

PB: I do.

HH: Do you think making prisoners stand for long periods of time is torture?

PB: I do.

HH: And extremes of hot and cold?

PB: I do.

HH: And extremes of darkness and light?

PB: Of course I do.

HH: And so did you folks, have you, Professor, talked to any interrogators about how they can do it the right way? Could any music be used?

PB: We would be happy to talk, I mean, if they, if this were an attempt to try to find ways of coming to human understanding. This is what we do in our field, we work with human understanding, not with the use of music or other forms of expression to harm people.

HH: Do you think that terrorists are hardened against interrogation techniques in their training?

PB: I…I…I don’t think this is a relevant question to what we’re talking about here.

HH: Well, but again, whether or it is, but I’m just trying to figure out whether or not you folks considered the necessity of getting information from people, and how it might be done before issuing the statement.

PB: We’re not…again, we’re not talking about interrogation. That’s the tack of questioning that you followed. We’re talking about the use of music as…to…as an implement of torture.

HH: But I haven’t yet heard what technique of interrogation you consider to be non-torturous. The ones that are commonly discussed on the web I’ve gone through, but do you have any to come forward with that you can suggest?

PB: It’s not my position to suggest. I think that for example, discussing with someone within the terms of cultural understanding, to understand that the…what in fact, for example, a person may be doing in his or her normal life that led to, for example, an arrest in Afghanistan because of bounty paid by the United States government…

HH: Wait, wait. You lost me, Professor. Back up. What was that about?

PB: The United States government paid bounties to Afghani citizens for those who would turn in people that they would…were terrorists. So in order to collect this money, many innocent people were turned in, simply because it was a means of collecting bounties, and those people are now imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay.

HH: Where does that come from?

PB: Excuse me?

HH: Where did that information come from? I’m unfamiliar with that.

PB: Yeah, well, there was a report yesterday on NPR in the afternoon, an interview with a lawyer who works with Guantanamo Bay prisoners, and I believe that was yesterday or the day before.

HH: Professor Bohlman, can I keep you one more segment? I have to go to a break.

PB: Yes, sure.

– – – –

HH: (Macarthur Park music playing) Welcome back, America. It’s Hugh Hewitt with Professor Philip Bohlman, president of the Society For Ethnomusicologists. Professor, at the University of Chicago, I think I’m with you, Professor, on Richard Harris and Macarthur Park. Is that torturous?

PB: (pause) Excuse me?

HH: What do you think of that song?

PB: (longer pause) Well, I don’t completely understand what you’re asking me.

HH: Well, we’re trying to figure out which music…is it because the music is louder, or is it the particular music that you’re objecting to being played to the jihadists?

PB: First of all, I don’t think the question is one of jihadi. I don’t…I think using that term is very misleading, and I’m afraid that it’s not a line of questioning that I find productive at all.

HH: Well, why is it misleading to use jihadi?

PB: Well, what is your definition of that term?

HH: Someone engaged in global jihad, in an effort to use violence to advance the return of the caliphate.

PB: Well, I think that this is not what we’re talking about here.

HH: Well, would you agree Zarqawi is a jihadi? Zawahiri?

PB: I don’t know how you’re using the term, and I don’t want to be baited into this sort of …

HH: I don’t want to bait you. But I’m trying to get to the key question, which is let’s say we’ve got Osama and Zawahiri in a room. Can we play music to upset them?

PB: There is no point in doing it.

HH: But if the professional psyops interrogators think there is, could we?

PB: You’ve moved the conversation away from the discussion of this particular position statement, and I think that I…that it’s only appropriate…what I think about, the conversation here is not what I think might happen if Osama is in a room. This is not…this has nothing to do with the position statement that the Society For Ethnomusicology put up on its website.

HH: Well, actually, I think it’s a concrete hypothetical example, or we could use Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Are you familiar with him?

PB: This…the hypothetical, we’re not talking about hypotheticals.

HH: No, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is in custody. He’s actually…are you familiar with him?

PB: I am, yes.

HH: Could we use the Barney song on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

PB: No.

HH: Could we use any music on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

PB: What would be the point?

HH: I don’t know. Richard Harris could destabilize a lot of people.

PB: (pause) That…your statement…that statement alone shows an understanding of interrogation that accepts a level of cruelty that I find personally reprehensible.

HH: Cruelty and destabilization are very different things, Professor.

PB: They…I don’t agree with you.

HH: Is it cruel to keep them imprisoned?

PB: It is cruel to keep anyone imprisoned without habeas corpus.

HH: So do you believe, actually, that we have enemies that want to kill us, you personally?

PB: That’s not the point of what the Ethnomusicology statement is about.

HH: I know, but now you’ve really opened my eyes, that you guys are quite significant ideologues opposed to serious engagement with the War On Terror. I’m just wondering how far your personal ideology takes you.

PB: If that’s what your eyes have been opening to, you did not read the statement carefully, and you do not understand what it is that…the context of it.

HH: Well, here’s one part of the statement, and you can explain to me. You are committed to drawing critical attention to the abuse of such standards through the unethical use of music to harm individuals in the societies in which they live. Can you give me a couple of examples of the unethical use of music to harm individuals in the societies in which they live, excepting, of course, rap, which is too easy?

PB: The use of music at high volume to…to…directed at…into public streets in Iraq, for example, which is meant to drive people to…into their homes, and to disrupt their normal way of life.

HH: And do you have any example of an unethical use of music to harm individuals in the societies in which they live which the United States did not perpetrate?

PB: (pause) There are uses of music in this way, that go through history. The use…much of the use of music at the beginning of a battle in which loud music is performed. We know this from the earliest historical accounts of battles.

HH: Like bagpipes to get the Scots a’rollin’?

PB: That’s not a very good example. I mean to say the use, the use of drums and loud double reed instruments at various points in various wars. The…the Scots, I think that’s an exaggeration.

HH: So any particulars, with specifics? You guys referred to in your statement, you guys and gals, to the unethical uses of music to harm individuals in the societies in which they live. We have the use in interrogation, we have the use in Iraq to drive people indoors. And we have a generalized thing. But is there, like, did you ever condemn any previous use of music not originating in the United States?

PB: First of all, I want to object to the use of the term ‘gals.’ I think this is an insulting term, and I hope that you don’t speak like this about women.

HH: I actually don’t think gals is, but I just want to go back to the question. Any specifics?

PB: I don’t agree…I mean, I don’t agree with your statement…I think this is a really insulting thing to say about women.

HH: Well, I know. You’re on the record. Duly noted, we’ll publish the transcript. My question is, though, do you have any specifics about the use of, the abuse of music to harm individuals in societies not perpetrated by the United States?

PB: Um…(pause) Do I have any specifics?

HH: Yes.

PB: Well, okay, I can tell you that in the writings of the 14th Century, a North African writer, Ibn Khaldun. There are sections in his introduction to…in a general history called Al-Muqaddima, in which he talks about this, yes.

HH: And did you…well, I guess there’s not much point in issuing a condemnation of that. But any other societies in the world today where music has been used? For example, the Soviets used to bind people up in tight cloths, and fill them full of psychotropic drugs, and Vladimir Bukovsky comes to mind, and so I can give you an example of torture by the use of psychotic drugs, and horrible things in Castro’s Cuba prisons. Are you familiar that Castro is a torturer extraordinaire, for example, Professor?

PB: I…I don’t know that I’m familiar with that term that you use. It’s not a term that I’m familiar with.

HH: Do you think that Castro is a vicious, dictatorial thug who tortures people?

PB: This has nothing to do…

HH: But it’s not a trick question.

PB: Would you please talk about our statement?

HH: I am. I could get…I’m running out of time. Will you come back tomorrow?

PB: I can’t come back tomorrow.

HH: Okay, just a last…I’ve got 30 seconds. Do you think Castro is a tyrant?

PB: You have only 30 seconds. Please let me say that you have moved the conversation away from the specific position statement. I invite your listeners to read the text. Our discussion that you have baited me into is the wrong discussion.

HH: Professor, I’m sorry, we’re out of time, but you have an open invitation to return to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

End of interview.

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